[Note: This post coincides with week 2 in our Origins series: Splitting the Adam. If you haven’t heard that message yet, it might be better to go there and give a listen first. Enjoy!]
One of the things that I love about our church community is how we live out a real-world diversity-in-unity that is summed up in the Greek word HOMOTHUMADON: literally, a raging passion for unity. (See this blog post for more about HOMOTHUMADON.) We get to experience this more vividly when we teach and learn and discuss and discover together on potentially divisive topics like free will, baptism, women in leadership, gay marriage, peace theology, charismatic gifts, and (you guessed it) the historicity of the opening chapters of Genesis.
Every time we walk toward rather than run away from a potentially divisive topic, I am again encouraged by the spiritual maturity and fruit of the Spirit manifest by our congregation. And so far (did you hear that church? So far?) this series is no different. I think this is one of the benefits of being radically Jesus-centred.
So in answer to the question – Did Adam and Eve exist? – I think most folks at The Meeting House fall into one of three general categories:
- Yes. Adam and Eve are literal people since Genesis is literal history.
- Yes. Adam and Eve are literal people, even though aspects of the early chapters of Genesis are more literary and figurative.
- No. Adam and Eve are literary figures God uses to tell us important truths about ourselves.
And in this post I’d love to help us develop a loving appreciation for brothers and sisters who hold each view.
VIEW 1: Literal History
In this view, Adam and Eve were both near-instantaneous miracles, similar to Jesus turning water into wine (John 2). That’s a good analogy, because wine is something that has the appearance of age (since fermentation has taken place), and yet Jesus made it instantly. Maybe this miracle is similar to the creation of Adam and Eve and this whole world of ours. If we believe the stories of Jesus and his miracles, we have to be open to the idea that God can make things a) quickly and b) appear to be old even though they are not.
There is something basically admirable, down to the core, of a believer who is willing to stand by their convictions despite the weight of the world being unsupportive. This is the kind of chutzpah that the early Church had, the Radical Reformation had, and one that I want this generation of Jesus-followers to have again. Are you ready to be mentored in this tenacious chutzpah by your brothers and sisters who are firm in their faith? By listening to and learning from them, I think that kind of firmness of faith rubs off on a variety of Christian convictions.
VIEW 2: Real people, evolved and chosen.
In Genesis 2, the creation of Adam is described this way:
Then the Lord God formed a man [ADAM] from the dust of the ground [ADAMA] and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)
That word “formed” (Hebrew, yasar) refers to the action of an artisan. It is used in the Bible to refer to both pottery and wood working. God is the Divine Artist and Master Builder. Now the question is, how long did it take for God to “form” humankind? Ten minutes? Ten hours? Ten million years?
Proponents of this view see evolution happening in the word “formed” while at some point God actively interrupts business as usual and infuses his own unique God-life into humankind. This is both metaphorical and literal, like God making Eve from Adam’s side. God has formed us, quite likely using the natural processes of evolution, but at some point, God has intervened supernaturally to make us more than the animals.
VIEW 3: Largely literary
Coming back to that word “formed” in Genesis 2:7, Dennis O. Lamoureux (a triple PhD Canadian scientist, professor, author, and fellow Christian) suggests that we should see it pointing to a real God who also really used the natural process of evolution the whole way. I’ve had the privilege of talking with Dennis and I am as impressed with his passionate Christian faith as much as I am with his sharp “follow-the-evidence-wherever-it-leads” intellect.
According to this view, Genesis 1-11 is God-inspired parable. The real recorded history in Genesis starts around chapter 12 with the call of Abram. So, stories like the talking snake, Noah and the ark, and the tower of Babel are all stories God uses to teach us something about ourselves in relationship with God.
For people like Lamoureux, the “formation” of Adam happened through “teleological evolution” – that is, evolution with a purpose, a goal, moving intentionally toward an end, and that end was us. God designed evolution to produce people.
Dennis uses the analogy, not of Jesus turning water into wine, but of a baby being formed in the womb. The process of foetal development takes time and passes through many stages, but eventually becomes a newborn baby. It is a purely natural process, but a natural process God designed to produce people. Evolution, then, is God’s embryological approach to creation.
But Genesis 2:7 says specifically that it was God who formed Adam and not some impersonal process of evolution. Yes, just as David said it was God who formed him in his mother’s womb:
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
~ King David (Psalm 139:13-15)
On the one hand, gestation in the womb is a completely natural process, explained by scientific processes. And yet at the same time, the Bible says it is a miracle; God’s personal involvement in the creation each and every life.
We see both aspects of the natural and supernatural in Job’s statement:
Remember that you molded me like clay.
Will you now turn me to dust again?
~ Job (Job 10:9)
See that? Job claims God personally molded him from the dust – just like Genesis describes the creation of Adam! So, here we see that the Bible can speak of a natural event (being born from a woman) in supernatural terms (being molded from the dust personally and directly by God).
Maybe, just maybe, this is similar to what the Bible tells us about Adam and Eve.
Whatever the right answer, I’m glad on judgement day Jesus will not ask for our theory about the origins of life on earth as our pass card into heaven. A faith that follows Jesus – that’s what makes us Christians and unites us as Christians. And that is a genuine miracle.